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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 25 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 43
Lambda Legal appeals HIV+ man's conviction - Iowa case illustrates multiple injustices of HIV criminalization laws
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Lambda Legal appeals HIV+ man's conviction - Iowa case illustrates multiple injustices of HIV criminalization laws

Lambda Legal has appealed the conviction of Nick Rhoades, an HIV-positive Iowa man, to the Iowa Supreme Court. Rhoades was initially sentenced to 25 years in prison and required to register as a sex offender based on a one-time sexual encounter with another man, during which they used a condom.

'We're asking the Iowa Supreme Court to review this case because the facts here don't add up to a conviction,' said Scott Schoettes, director of Lambda Legal's HIV Project. 'The Court of Appeals' decision was based on a misinterpretation of the plain language of the statute, and we look forward to presenting the case to the state's Supreme Court.

'A person who uses a condom and engages in safe sex, as Nick did, does not have the intent required to support a conviction under Iowa's law addressing exposure to HIV,' Schoettes continued.

In June 2008, Rhoades had a one-time sexual encounter with Adam Plendl, during which they used a condom. Several days later, Plendl was told by a friend that Rhoades might be HIV-positive. Plendl went to a hospital to be tested, and hospital officials contacted police, who arrested Rhoades in September 2008 on charges of criminal transmission of HIV. On the advice of his counsel, Rhoades pleaded guilty. Despite the fact that a condom was used and Plendl turned out not to have contracted HIV, Rhoades received the maximum sentence: 25 years in prison and classification as the most serious type of sex offender.

CONVICTION UPHELD
The court later reduced Rhoades's sentence to time served (13 months) and placed him on supervised probation for five years. On March 15, 2010, Rhoades filed an Application for Post-Conviction Relief, arguing that his attorney had failed to inform him of the specifics of the statute, resulting in his conviction for a crime he did not commit. In December 2011, the district court denied the application, and Lambda Legal began representing Rhoades on appeal. Oral arguments were presented to the Iowa Court of Appeals in September 2013, and on October 2, a three-judge panel affirmed Rhoades's conviction.

Thirty-nine states have HIV-specific criminal statutes or have brought HIV-related criminal charges resulting in more than 160 prosecutions in the United States in the past four years. Among other things, HIV criminalization perpetuates the many myths and misconceptions that fuel other types of discrimination against people living with HIV. It sends an inaccurate message regarding prevention responsibility, creates a disincentive to getting tested, and may actually discourage disclosure of HIV status.

More information on the case, Rhoades v. State of Iowa, is available online at www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/rhoades-v-iowa.

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of Lesbians, Gay men, Bisexuals, Transgender people, and those with HIV, through impact litigation, education, and public policy work. - Submitted by Lambda Legal

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